Monday, January 11, 2010

Tinkering with Conan’s Image

Has Conan O’Brien failed as the new host of NBC’s “Tonight Show”? I’d say the answer is yes. Reason? Diluted image.

The only question in my mind is why NBC is coming to such a rapid conclusion and not giving O’Brien the time he needs to build his audience. That is unfortunate. When he started the show last June and Jay Leno , the previous host, was moved to 10 PM, Jeff Zucker, CEO of NBC Universal, said, “We’re going to judge this on 52 weeks,” according to The New York Times . But after only 17 weeks, NBC has telegraphed its intention to return Leno to the 11:35 PM spot followed by O’Brien at 12:05. It’s a real slap in the face to Conan.

During his initial six months, Conan O’Brien averaged 2.8 million viewers, whereas Jay Leno, during the six-month period prior to Conan’s starting, averaged 5 million viewers. Leno’s failure at 10 PM affects the money local 11 PM news in various spots around the U.S. can make, and it affects Conan, as well.

All of this hullabaloo puts the spotlight on Conan. As a long-time Conan fan from his “Late Show” days, I have been mighty disappointed in his “Tonight Show” brand. And I assume others have been equally disappointed. Conan is a product of New York — he looks it and acts it. His long legs, shock of red hair, sardonic smile and offbeat humor fit the culture here. He’s a little different. New Yorkers like somebody a little different, as probably do many viewers throughout the country who watch after 12:30 AM. On the “Late Show” he would come out, do a few twirls, shake his hips in hula-like fashion, stick his thumbs in the air to the right and left as if he were hitching a ride — and then get started. So everyone was laughing before he said word one.

So what does NBC do? Move Conan O’Brien to California. Remove the physical antics which were his trademark. Soften his sardonic wit. Keep his subtleties. And what do you have? A diluted Conan. A Conan who is no longer Conan. He is someone I do not know. Middle America will buy New York (e.g., Joan Rivers and Jerry Seinfeld), but they won’t buy someone who is not real.

Leno is an easy sell in middle America. Not too good looking. Regular guy. Humor is sharp, funny and easy to understand. Exceptional track record at a time when there is an advertiser recession and local affiliates are losing money. No brainer.

You can take the boy out of New York but you can’t take New York out of the boy. NBC: are you listening?

Technorati Tags: NBC, Conan O'Brien, Tonight Show, Jay Leno,
communications, communications, public relations, Makovsky


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